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Prioritizing Your New Year’s Goals

As we embark on a new year and new decade, it’s often a time to reflect on what went well (and not so well) over the past 12 months. From those reflections come insights that can be translated into goals and resolutions for the upcoming year.

That whole process of setting new year resolutions is a time-honored tradition, especially for entrepreneurs. We’re used to resetting the bar higher. We get excited pouring ourselves into the fine yet messy details of drafting new goals or resurrecting old ones. With that, our nearly boundless energy is directed toward measurable (if done correctly) targets for the year. 

And then…? Empty gyms in February.

A bit of sarcasm is implied here because, after all, part of the time-honored tradition is (sometimes) not following through on those resolutions. It’s like that Seinfeld skit at the car rental. 

“You see, you know how to *take* the reservation, you just don’t know how to *hold* the reservation. And that’s really the most important part of the reservation: the holding. Anybody can just take them.”

The joke is self-directed too. I’m a serial goal-setter and have gotten pretty good at the *holding* part, and yet I too still fall short. And I’m not talking about stretch goals which are set purposely high to rip us out of our comfort zones. If you pursue stretch goals, you may not reach that exact goal, but you’ve achieved something valuable in the process and earned progress on something that you wouldn’t have otherwise. 

What I’m talking about is the problem of pursuing too many goals or too many unrelated goals—getting caught up in the fun and setting yourself up for disappointment in the process.

After all, there’s an opportunity cost to each goal we set. Each one requires focus, time, and energy—all scarce resources. When we deplete those resources in pursuit of too many, unaligned goals then we jeopardize the ones at the top of the list, the things that are most critical to our success and happiness.

To protect and prioritize the top of the list, you have to check your ambition and eliminate those things that are secondary.

I don’t know if there’s a magic number, but for me that’s rarely more than 5-7 goals, depending on what they are. Everything else? Dust bin.

If you want a methodology, look no further than Warren Buffett and his 5/25 strategy. As it’s been told to me, you first write down your top 25 goals. Feeding off of that excitement, you then circle the top 5 from that list. Finally, you excruciatingly cross off the remaining 20. 

Voilà. Prioritization.

The point is to get rid of distractions wherever and however you can. It’s difficult to eliminate things that you still value and aim to accomplish, but it’s kind of liberating once you do. There’s a lightness to offloading those distractions. More importantly, you’re doing it in service of something much bigger.

Wes Melville is VP of client success at BGSD Strategies.